The Broader Picture: Killing comes to the city centre

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The Independent Culture
IT WAS a day the office workers of Johannesburg wouldn't easily forget. On Monday 28 March, just a month before the first free elections in South Africa, the violent struggle between the rival black parties, usually reserved for the townships, landed right on their doorstep. In the financial district people watched in horror from behind the smoked glass which protects them in their high-rise blocks from the heat of the sun as the scene unfolded below them.

Inkatha supporters had marched into the city early that morning, the men carrying their traditional spears and shields. They had congregated for a peaceful meeting in Library Gardens when a shot rang out from above the crowd. As hundreds of people flattened themselves on the concrete or fled screaming down side-streets, more shots were fired and the police joined in. At least five people died and many more were injured. A short time earlier Inkatha supporters had 'stormed' the ANC headquarters in Shell House; ANC security guards opened fire and killed eight people. At Library Gardens an accountant working at his desk had been killed by a stray bullet.

There is still confusion about who fired the first shot. Were ANC snipers hidden in the crowd or posted at windows up above? Had Inkatha gunmen deliberately set off a riot that would be blamed on the ANC or the police? Was it - as people later surmised - the work of a 'third force' calculated to add even more tension to a situation that has reached breaking point in the weeks leading up to the elections? Two days later, five ANC officials were invited to an Inkatha hostel for peaceful 'talks', then slaughtered with AK47s in revenge for 'the people who died in the square'.

The day before the killings in the square, Chief Buthelezi had declared he would fight the ANC 'to the finish'. A week later, on Easter Sunday, he joined Nelson Mandela, F W de Klerk and a million-strong crowd at a religious meeting in Zion City, 200 miles north of Johannesburg. During the intervening week a state of emergency had been declared in Natal; troops had been brought in to contain the fighting - while the peace sermons were being given in Zion City, women were being hacked to death with machetes in Natal - and in that province at least, Inkatha's campaign to destabilise the elections had worked. In the last few weeks before election day on 27 April, there was still a sense that anything could happen.-

(Photograph omitted)

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